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Friday, February 24, 2012

Meet Mike Clark & Luke Pestl: Bellwoods Brewery - Toronto, ON

Mike and Luke incognito
Meet Mike Clark and Luke Pestl, the co-founders and brewers of the soon to be open Bellwoods Brewery.

The two highly educated and talented brewers, who worked together at the Amsterdam Brewing Co. before embarking on their dream of running their own brewery, are inching closer and closer to opening their doors at 124 Ossington Avenue. They've already brewed a number of the regular offerings, which are all nicely fermenting away as we speak and should be ready in early March.

The brewery will have a cafe, a patio, and will offer variety of bottles in their retail store (once open) that will allow individuals to purchase beer to take home. Keep an eye on their account for news about their opening.

*Questions have been answered by both gentlemen, so L stands for Luke and M for Mike.

For those that don't know, you are in the middle of building a new brewery in Toronto. Can you tell us about it? 
Bellwoods Brewery is a microbrewery, retail store and café that will be opening at 124 Ossington Avenue sometime in March. We will be running a 8.5hL direct-fired brewing system, as well as a 50L pilot system. We will have a small bottle filler to supply our retail store, which we will stock with some staple brews, as well as seasonal and one-offs.

The café will provide a relaxed space where people can enjoy our rotating beer list with some great food. Guy Rawlings (Cowbell/Black Hoof/Brockton General) will be setting up the initial menu.

How are plans coming along? When do you plan on opening your doors?
We started brewing on Feb 6 and spent that week filling up our four fermenters. We’ll be packaging those brews off and doing another full round of fermentations before we open. We’ve also been brewing on the pilot system. The space is filled with the sound of bubbling - it’s great. We’ll most likely open the café in mid to late March. The retail store area will open later on, most likely in May.

What kinds of beer will you be producing? What will set you apart from other breweries?
We have been developing a number of different recipes over the past few months, including various porters, IPAs, pale ales, saisons, trappists, and even some sours. We will definitely be experimenting further after opening.

We plan to operate our pilot system as much as possible as a way to continuously develop recipes, and to provide an ever-rotating menu of beers. Though I don’t presume this will set us apart from other breweries, Great Lakes for one already does this, I do think it will add to the creative brewing environment that is beginning to develop in Ontario.

We’re also excited to collaborate with other brewers. We did a collab on the pilot system with Sam from Sawdust City last week. We’re looking forward to having a few other brewers in over the next month.

Why did you get into the brewing industry and where did your passion for it come from?
L. For as long as I can remember, brewing beer seemed to be one of the greatest things someone could do for a living. In my mind, it carried with it a badge in the highest level of self-sufficiency. I still can’t think of a career I would rather have.

After a degree in Biochemical Engineering, and getting through a year of a Master’s degree, the Amsterdam Brewing Company offered me a brewing position. Grad school was put on the back burner. My passion for brewing (and drinking) beer was cemented while working at Amsterdam, largely thanks to being a part of a great brewing team.

M. I spent three years sitting on wait lists for medical school. I drowned my sorrows in beer…then had a revelation. I’m glad I didn’t get in.

Have you brewed at any other breweries in Ontario?
L. I brewed at Amsterdam Brewing Company from 2007 to 2011.
M. Same…for a year starting in 2010.

What is the best aspect of working in the Canadian craft brewing industry?
L. It’s great to be a part of such a passionate community. I love brewing, and the people I meet throughout the industry are all so driven by what they do. It can be really inspiring.

M. Lots of good people. It’s a diverse group too, which is cool.

What kind of reaction do you get when you first tell people that you’re a brewer?
L. Occasionally, it lights up someone’s face as if it where the coolest thing I could have told them – that’s a great feeling.

M. It ranges from confusion, to suspicion to exactly the reaction Luke just described. Over the course of our renovation we’ve had lots of different people helping us. It’s funny how many people seem willing to help us just a little bit more when they find out we make beer.

Tell us something about Bellwoods that not a lot of people know about... yet!
We will be expanding into the property to the north of us (126 Ossington Ave.) at the beginning of March, so Bellwoods is really 124-126 Ossington Ave. The 126 space will provide ample cellar space for our inventory, as well as space for additional tanks, for barrel aging and potentially bottle conditioning. 126 will also be the site of our retail store.

To date, what would you say is the highlight of your brewing career?
Probably assembling and doing the initial brews on the new brewhouse at Bellwoods.

Name your favourite non Bellwoods produced beer.
L. I don’t have any absolute favourites, there are way too many great beers out there. Of Canadian Craft, I recently had a couple Driftwood beers (Singularity and Bird of Prey) both of which were fantastic. One that I always try to keep stocked in my cellar is Douchesse de Bourgogne.

M. Yikes….impossible. I’m having a Bear Republic Racer 5 right now…and it’s very good. I’m a big fan of Corne du Diable and Peche Mortel from Dieu Du Ciel! My local LCBO isn’t exactly pushing the envelope in the beer dept, but they do have Chimay Red and White as well as Duvel, all of which I like a lot.

Best time for a pint?
L. After my two young boys are in bed.

M. Again lots of options, but being up north on a dock in the summer and having happy hour with my Gran (she’s 91 and loves her Creemore) is about as good a time as any.

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